In the fading afternoon light, on October 31st 1917, the mounted infantry division of the 4th and 12th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse took part in one of the last great cavalry charges in history. The capture of the wells of Beersheba, against a well-entrenched enemy, was a glorious hour in Australian military history. The audacious victory held the key to the Middle East campaign of World War 1, and led to the liberation of Jerusalem and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
STORY INSPIRATION as told by Mark Greenwood
The spark to write about the light horse and the charge at Beersheba came from a visit to a school in Queensland where I saw the famous photograph of the charge hanging in the school hall.
The photo, and the controversy surrounding it instantly intrigued me. I began reading many light horse books with a view to writing a story that would bring this moment in our history to life.
I’m drawn to little known slices of history where themes like courage and mateship play an important role in defining our past. So I began a search for a story within the story – I was searching for a tale of one horse and one rider among those brave 800 – a story that would give readers a sense of atmosphere and participation and excitement about that historic event.
And that’s how Midnight’s story found me!
I visited the Haydon’s Bloomfield homestead in the Hunter Valley, NSW where Midnight was born. I was graciously granted access to Guy’s letters from the trenches at Gallipoli and throughout the campaign in Palestine.
Then, together with Frané, we travelled to the scene of the famous charge and retraced the places where Guy and Midnight camped in the last few days leading up to the charge.
For me, going to the setting I’m writing about, where the historical event actually occurred, is one of the crucial stages in bringing history to life. It is a fascinating part of the process of writing about the past.
This book was inspired by the folklore of the Haydon family from “Bloomfield”, in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Riding his beloved mare, Midnight, Guy Haydon, a 25-year-old stockman, enlisted with the 12th Light Horse Regiment on 15th of February 1915.
Lt. Haydon was parted from his horse when he was sent to Gallipoli. When he returned to Egypt he was allocated another, but no horse could replace Midnight. Lieutenant Haydon searched for weeks amongst the thousands of army horses until he found Midnight with another regiment. Negotiations between the commanding officers of both regiments to swap horses eventually reunited the soldier and his horse.
During the battle for Gaza, Midnight remained continuously under saddle for seven days and nights – testament to the endurance of this wonderful horse, as well as to the care she received from Guy Haydon.
The Lieutenant and Midnight served together until sunset on the 31st of October 1917 when the 4th and 12th Regiments of Australian Light Horse charged the Turkish stronghold of Beersheba. Riding Midnight, Lieutenant Haydon was one of the first to leap the enemy trenches.
Midnight’s story is told in a simple prose style, accompanied by Frane’s vibrant interpretation in this poignant re-imagining of an extraordinary event in Australia’s history.
This story ends on a solemn note, but Midnight is a hero and her inspiring story is one that I hope many young Australians will read, just as we read about other heroes whose stories have contributed to our national myth-making.
History is about listening and sharing stories. I hope our Midnight will encourage readers to think critically about the tragedy of war. I hope the story will linger in the reader’s memory long after the book is closed.
Midnight – the story of a light horse published by Walker Books Australia.
US edition to be released in 2015 by Candlewick Press.
Buy online or in all good bookstores from February 1st, 2014